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Op-Ed: Uganda's Nodding Syndrome vs. Power Syndrome

Feb 23, 2012 Written by  Umar Weswala, Guest Contributor
420253482_e42510d3c0_zAccording to media reports making the rounds in Uganda and Kenya, President Museveni has finally gone on record about his insatiability for power by praising the act of rulers who impose themselves on the people for longer than mandated.

If he really said “the more you stay, the more you learn”, then the Museveni of 2012 dissociated himself from or defied the Museveni of 1986 who said “the problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people, but leaders who want to over stay in power”.

It is now common knowledge that President Museveni did not only want to overstay in power, but he actually did, thereby making himself not just a problem to Uganda, but a huge problem.

He started being a huge problem way back in 2005 when National Resistance Movement (NRM) members of parliament voted in favour of amending the 1995 Constitution of Uganda to lift the presidential term limits after being given a UGX 5 million “bribe” each by their party. This was after he pleaded with Ugandans to vote him back into office in the 2001 elections. He promised them and assured them that he was contesting for his last term as president. Out of sympathy and ignorance, Ugandans gave him the opportunity to “professionalise” the army and then leave the stage after 20 years in power, just as he had requested.

On 17 November 2005 however, Ugandans realised that he had actually lied to them when he was chosen as the NRM's presidential candidate for the February 2006 elections, just two months after the NRM dominated parliament voted to amend the constitutionally enshrined term limits provision.

It turned out that by "professionalising" the army, he probably meant "personalising" it.

It was after the controversial 2006 elections that Ugandans realised the truth in the words of the Museveni of 1986, and started feeling the pinch of being under a one-man rule that had overstayed its welcome.

Corruption took centre stage. HIV/AIDS infection rates stopped going down. Hospitals turned into some kind of "death or torture camps", with reports of low medicine supplies and rampant cruelty by medical workers emerging. The education sector lost momentum despite the introduction of UPE. Public servants tuned themselves into small gods. The army appeared to have shifted its loyalty from serving nation to serving the ruler. Kampala City became an irritant. Ugandan investors lost many privileges to foreign investors, something that sparked a debate about who a real investor was. The police became militarised and more brutal than before, and "tear gas became tear gas", as the saying goes these days. The rift between the central government and Mengo grew wider. Unemployment remained a serious problem with "technical know who" replacing "technical knowhow". Cases of human rights abuses increased, especially against opposition activists, journalists, women, and children.

Now, nodding syndrome is incapacitating and killing children in northern Uganda. The disease was first reported in Uganda in 2009, and causes youth under 15 to violently nod their heads, as if they were having a seizure, when they eat or feel cold. It results in worsening malnutrition and a slow descent into incomprehensible babbling.

Unlike the power syndrome which afflicts President Museveni, there is no evidence that the nodding syndrome is the president’s making, as much as he cannot prove that it is not his government’s making.

Putting the blame game aside, there are several similarities between the nodding syndrome and the power syndrome in terms of making life difficult for Ugandans. However, in order to solve Uganda’s many problems - including the nodding syndrome - there is need to address the country’s huge problem: the power syndrome. With the nodding syndrome must go the power syndrome.

We have the antidote for the power syndrome - collective defiance and the ballot paper. We already have leads to the cure for the nodding syndrome, thanks to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and our own Ministry of Health. With the power syndrome removed, Ugandans will regain the needed composure and time to find an antidote for the nodding syndrome.

Umar Weswala is a peace journalist from Uganda and an Edward R. Murrow Fellow. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . "For God and my country."

Photo: K Carlson

Tagged under Nodding syndrome    Uganda    power    elections    army    politics   

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